Friday, 19 June 2015

The Groves of Academe

The world of higher education owes a lot to ancient Greece – the very term academic derives from the name of the place where Plato taught.  And the continuing saga around Greece’s economic and political travails look like a path to exit from the Euro and possibly the EU. If this happened, what would be the impact on UK HE?

First, some numbers: non-UK EU students account for just over 5% of the UK total student population (about 125k out of just shy of 2.3m in 2013-14, according to HESA).  Greece contributes the fourth highest number – just over 10.5k, about 8% of the non-UK EU students in the UK.

Data from HESA
The other top domiciles are Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, and Cyprus, which tells me that in Greece, Ireland and Cyprus going to the UK is a significant cultural pattern (think of the different populations of those countries.)

A decent number of these students are undergraduates.  Greece in 2013-14 had the third highest number of new undergraduates – just over 5000.  As EU citizens, undergraduates are eligible for student loans form the SLC in the same way as UK students, and this enables the continuation of what has been a pattern of EU students studying in the UK for their first degrees.

Data from HESA again
The same countries form the top 6 – again showing that there’s quite a habit of studying in the UK in Greece, Ireland and Cyprus.

So what would Greek EU exit mean?  Hypothetically, of course.

Without access to SLC funding, it’s unlikely that as many Greek students would travel to the UK to study. 5000 new undergraduates is the intake of a large university, so the impact would be felt over the years as fewer students applied to UK universities.

And there’d be immediate questions to address.  The politics make this interesting.  There aren’t any rules or procedures for a country leaving the EU, and my guess is that the politics of such a change would be disorderly and dramatic rather than with a planned transition.  So, just for a change, there wouldn’t be clear policy from the UK government.

And universities are bound by rules and regulations on this. See, for example, the University of Exeter, which has a very clear policy on fee status for EU accession candidates. If a country stopped being a member of the EU, then the natural consequence is that the students from that country would become, in terms of fee status, overseas. Universities can choose to set whatever fees they like, and so could continue to charge the home fee for such students, but since students would become ineligible for state funding, current Greek students would in any case face immediate financial uncertainty and pressure.

Visa status is a further uncertainty. Would Greek students need tier 4 visas? It would be tricky for the current government to be relaxed about this. My understanding is that the direction of UKVI policy is that overseas students who need a visa extension would be required to leave the UK to apply for the extension.  So overall my guess is that Greek students would need tier 4 visas; and would be asked to leave the UK in order to apply for such visas from outside. What chance that many would do this and come back?

This is obviously speculation – Greece hasn’t (yet) left the Euro and the EU, and maybe they won’t. But it might be worth universities checking how many students they have from Greece – if there’s a student support and a financial policy question coming, knowing the scale of it in advance might be wise.

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